AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – You gotta love the Kiwis. They have a reputation of being something like we Canadians. But when it comes to tourism, they certainly seem to be more “out there” than we are.
I’ll have some examples of this coming up in the next week or two, as I take you on a tour of Matamata (where they filmed much of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit), Rotorua (where I rode a sail-powered go-kart and a spinning contraption called a drift-kar), Picton and Marlborough (a wine tour and a kayak trip), Kaikoura (a chartered plane ride over whales and a MASSIVE pod of dolphins) and more. For now, though, here are a couple of inventive ways that New Zealanders have come up with to enjoy their biggest city, Auckland.
On Waiheke Island, a short ferry ride away from downtown and one of my favourite spots in the country, I took a great off-road ride through the woods and vineyards with SegWai (as in Segway Waiheke combined). My guide, Andrew Lanyon, was a great chap who, believe it or not, used to not only sell Calvin Klein perfume and high-end Bang and Olufsen stereo equipment to rock stars but also was a professional clown.
I’ve seen Segway vehicles around Auckland on a previous trip, but they were used on roads. Lanyon came up with the idea of using wide-tired Segways to help folks enjoy a bit of a motorized thrill while also touring the woods and vineyards and hills and dales of Waiheke, a place I would gladly retire to if my family weren’t so far away.
We started near the harbour, which makes it easier for visiting tourists on a day visit from Auckland. After a safety demonstration and some practice riding on the grass (a tad tricky but not hard to learn), we set off up the hill, winding through a thick forest and on up to Cable Bay vineyards and Mud Brick Winery. Both offer great views of the island’s rolling hills and deep blue bays. And both make excellent wine, not that I recommend sipping between Segway rides.
The vehicles also are able to traverse the beach, and we did a long ride along one of the island’s pretty beaches at low tide, rolling over rocks and stones and under arching trees to enjoy the seaside views.
We also managed to stop for a great gelato at Island Gelato in the cute town of Oneroa.
All told, a thoroughly fantastic way to enjoy Waiheke, one of the top attractions in the Auckland area.
Andrew even put together a video for me, which I hope you can see by clicking here.
The next morning was a brief tour of Auckland on the back of a Harley-Davidson with Bularangi Motorcycle Tours.
My experience with motorcycles is limited almost entirely to mopeds, although I recall riding my cousin’s Yamaha 175 cc motorcycle through the back roads of a tiny town called Shingle Springs, California when I was, oh, 16 years old. I’ve ridden lots of mopeds since but had only ridden on the back of a motorcycle once, and that was a moped in Athens with Mitch Potter of the Toronto Star back when I was covering the 2004 Olympics. It was slightly terrifying, as mopeds aren’t exactly big, stable vehicles and Athens traffic isn’t exactly a wonderful thing. Which is a long way of explaining that I was a tad nervous about the Harley ride.
My guide for the day,a grizzled and super-friendly guy named Kerry, put me at ease right away. He was gentle on the throttle and the bike was AMAZINGLY STEADY. I felt a little uneasy the first minute or two, but quickly relaxed and got into the rhythm of the ride.
Harleys are beautiful vehicles, and it was kinda cool to be wearing the big leather jacket and riding on one as we slid along Auckland’s pretty coastline. We rode through several pretty village areas along the water, including Tamaki Beach and Kohimarama. Didn’t have time to stop, but they look like great places to live; with the water so close by and great parks and cafes to enjoy.
I’ve done some fun tours in Canada, including a motorcycle sidecar visit in Halifax. But I’ve never been invited to ride a Segway through the vineyards of the Okanagan Valley or ride on the back of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle in Niagara. Let’s get to it, folks!
In addition to my tours, I had some time to enjoy the Heritage Hotel in Auckland. It’s built inside what used to be a large department store. My room had tons of space and a kitchen and good working space, as well as a great shower and bathroom. Breakfast is served in a lovely courtyard with tropical plants and high ceilings, and there’s a beautiful rooftop pool with views of the city and a small but good gym. It’s right downtown and only a short walk to the city’s vibrant waterfront.
Great location, great hotel and a fun, lively city. More to come on other great areas of New Zealand and unusual ways to get around and enjoy the scenery!
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